The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE -

The Os­car Wilde — In­so­lence In­car­nate ex­hi­bi­tion is at the Petit Palais un­til Jan­uary 15; Tues­day-Sun­day, 10am to 6pm; Fri­day to 9pm. More: pe­tit­ L’Ho­tel is a mem­ber of Small Lux­ury Ho­tels of the World, which has of­fers of 20 per cent off rooms at its nine Paris prop­er­ties. More: L’Ho­tel is of­fer­ing guided Os­car Wilde-themed lunch or af­ter­noon tea tours for the du­ra­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion plus en­trance tick­ets. From €40 ($57.60) a per­son. More: l-ho­ is the Mar­quess of Queens­berry’s card, de­liv­ered to Wilde’s club, on which the mar­quess had writ­ten, “For Os­car Wilde pos­ing som­domite [sic].” It was Wilde’s dis­as­trous li­bel suit that led to the crim­i­nal case against him.

On his re­lease, Wilde went first to Dieppe and then, in 1898, to Paris, first stay­ing at Ho­tel de Nice on Rue des Beaux Arts, then mov­ing to Ho­tel d’Al­sace where, at 11am, he would break­fast on bread, but­ter and cof­fee. At 2pm, he’d have a cut­let and two hard-boiled eggs, washed down with Cour­voisier cognac.

He then stretched out the days and nights, smok­ing and drink­ing in his old haunts, bor­row­ing money from pass­ing old friends such as An­dre Gide. Wilde’s fi­nal des­ti­na­tion in Paris was a som­bre but beau­ti­ful one: his tomb in Pere Lachaise Ceme­tery, de­signed by Ja­cob Ep­stein.

Im­me­di­ately after his death Wilde was buried in a leased pau­per’s grave in Bag­neux, out­side the walls of Paris. It was only in 1909 — with Wilde’s bank­ruptcy paid off by the post­hu­mous sales of his works — that his old friend, Rob­bie Ross, moved him to Pere Lachaise, where his tomb is the most vis­ited, more pop­u­lar than the graves of Maria Callas, Chopin and Jim Mor­ri­son.

But since the 1990s, pil­grims have pep­pered the stonework with kisses. Fat from the lip­stick sank into the stone, and had to be re­moved with sol­vent poul­tices. Over the years, Ep­stein’s work has been slowly de­cay­ing and, in 2011, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment paid to clean and de­grease the tomb, and in­stall a kiss-proof glass bar­rier. Now peo­ple kiss the glass and the sun projects the lip­stick out­lines on to Wilde’s tomb. I’m sure he would have ap­proved.


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